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By LeAnn R. Ralph
ELK MOUND — The results of a survey sent out to residents in the Elk Mound school district shows “strong support” for $15 million in referendum spending on facilities projects.
All of the projects identified by a facilities study would cost $20 million, and there is less support among survey respondents for the full package of facilities projects, said Sue Peterson of School Perceptions at a meeting in the Elk Mound High School auditorium October 28 to review the survey results.
The Elk Mound Board of Education contracted with School Perceptions to do the survey pertaining to projects that had been identified in a facilities study.
A $20 million referendum would add $126 to the property tax bill annually per $100,000 of property value, Peterson said.
A number of projects did not receive enough support on the survey to make it likely they would be approved in a referendum, including expanding the middle school gymnasium, resurfacing the track, fixing the football field drainage and moving the jump pit, expanding and renovating the high school locker rooms, keeping the high school swimming pool and updating the pool, and expanding the high school weight room.
Projects that did receive enough support to make it likely they would be approved on a referendum included safety and security improvements, improvements to technology education, improvements to the building systems (such as heating, ventilation, roofs and parking lots), improvements to the high school and middle school libraries, adding middle school classrooms and expanding the high school and middle school music rooms.
All together, 2,000 surveys were sent out to school district residents, and 480 surveys were returned for a response rate of 24 percent, Peterson said.
A typical response rate to surveys is 18 to 20 percent, so a 24 percent response rate is “above average,” she said.
Since the survey received a 24 percent response rate, it is likely that equally as many people read the survey and became more educated about the issues, Peterson said.
The survey respondents were divided into a variety of categories, such as those who have students in the district, those who have graduated from Elk Mound High School, those who are volunteers in the Elk Mound school district, those who have children younger than elementary school age, grandparents and parents and guardians, and employees of the school district, she said.
The group that “rules the world,” however, is the non-parent and non-staff group of respondents. These are the people who go to the polls and vote in referendum elections, Peterson said.
All together, 73 percent of the non-parent non-staff group said the Elk Mound Board of Education should “explore a referendum,” she said.
The non-parent non-staff group represents about 75 percent of the people who go to the polls to vote, Peterson noted.
No swimming pool
The survey question that seems likely to generate the most controversy in the school district is the issue of whether to keep the swimming pool at Elk Mound High School.
People in the audience who attended the October 28 meeting noted the swimming pool was very controversial when it was installed about 40 years ago, and people who attended the focus group meeting at the high school earlier in October showed strong support for keeping the swimming pool.
The survey question noted that the swimming pool requires $800,000 in updates and repairs for items such as making it Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant and updating the heating and mechanical system. The survey question also noted that the pool costs about $100,000 annually to maintain, Peterson said.
The question starts out by stating, “Some people have asked if this is a good time to consider closing the pool.”
The high school has a space shortage, and the pool could be removed and the space used for the music class rooms.
Of the non-parent non-staff respondents to the survey, 42 percent said the school district should invest in the swimming pool and continue to operate the pool.
Of the non-parent non-staff respondents to the survey, 44 percent said the swimming pool should be closed.
Of the non-parent non-staff respondents to the survey, 14 percent said they were “not sure” what to do about the swimming pool.
On the ranking part of the survey, where a “1” indicates the respondent is not likely to vote “yes” on a referendum question and a “3” indicates the respondent is likely to vote “yes” on a referendum question, the swimming pool scored a 1.92 — meaning the swimming pool would not be likely to be approved on a referendum.
School Perceptions does not recommend putting questions up for a referendum that score less than 2, Peterson said.
The closer the question is to a 3, the more likely it is to be approved on a referendum, she noted.
The area that received the most support on the survey from non-parent non-staff respondents was improving safety and security at a cost of about $300,000 with a score of 2.56.
Improving the technology education area of the high school (metal shop and wood shop) for $1 million received a score of 2.45 from non-parent non-staff respondents.
Improvements to the building systems (heating, ventilation, roofs and parking lots) for $5.4 million received a score of 2.41.
Updating the libraries at a cost of $125,000 received a score of 2.29.
Adding middle school classrooms at a cost of $3.2 million received a score of 2.28.
Expanding and renovating the middle school and high school music classrooms, at a cost of $3.3 million, received a score of 2.09.
Expanding the middle school gymnasium at a cost of $3.8 million received a score of 2.03.
Expanding and renovating the middle school and high school locker rooms at a cost of $1.71 million received a score of 2.03.
Resurfacing the track, fixing the drainage for the football field and moving long/triple jump pit at a cost of $750,000 received a score of 1.96.
Updating and repairing the swimming pool at a cost of $800,000 received a score of 1.92.
Expanding the weight room at a cost of $470,000 received a score of 1.83.
Peterson said that the “cutoff” for the referendum question might be expanding the middle school gymnasium, (2.03) as well as all of the other items with lower scores below the middle school gymnasium.
The middle school and high school music classrooms (2.09) might receive enough support to be approved on a referendum.
Resurfacing the track, fixing the football field drainage, and moving the long/triple jump pit, updating and repairing the swimming pool, and expanding the weight room and the locker rooms would be unlikely to be approved on a referendum, according to the survey results, Peterson said.
The “tax tolerance” of the respondents is $17 million, Peterson said.
Of the non-parent non-staff respondents, 22 percent said they would support $20 million on a referendum to add $126 per $100,000 of property value to their property taxes per year.
Of the non-parent non-staff respondents, 12 percent said they would support $17 million; 14 percent said they would support $15 million; 16 percent said they would support $13 million; 10 percent said they would support $11 million; 9 percent said they would support $9 million; 4 percent said they would support a smaller referendum; 8 percent said they were “not sure” or needed more information; 5 percent said they would not support a referendum.
The survey results indicate there would be support for around $13 million to $15 million but that there is not enough support for the entire $20 million, Peterson said.
All together, 48 percent of non-parent non-staff respondents said they would support $15 million. The 48 percent includes those who said they would support $17 million and $20 million.
One audience member objected strongly to the wording of the swimming pool question.
“Some people have asked if this is a good time to consider closing the pool” was the wrong way to ask the question and started out by emphasizing a negative about the swimming pool, he said.
Poor wording discourages people from voting in favor of a question, the man said, noting he had been at the focus group meeting where there was strong support for the swimming pool and that he did not know who “some people” might be referring to.
The gentleman in the audience also said he had extensive experience with sending out surveys.
A total of 44 people were at the focus group meeting where there was support for the swimming pool, noted Eric Wright, district administrator.
The focus group meetings also included school staff and parents of students at Elk Mound but not the non-parent non-staff people who actually get out and vote, Peterson and Wright pointed out.
If the other questions were worded in the same way, with a negative focus at the beginning of the question, the other questions would have had the same kind of response as the swimming pool, said the man who objected to the wording of the question.
Now that the question is “out there,” the general public will have a negative impression of the swimming pool, he said.
One person in the audience wondered if it would be possible to have two referendum questions.
One question could include safety and security, technology education, building systems, libraries, middle school classrooms and middle school and high school music classrooms.
The second question could include expanding the middle school gym, expanding the locker rooms, resurfacing the track and fixing the football field and moving the jump pit, repairing the swimming pool and expanding the weight room.
The Board of Education has not yet had time to process the survey results and to decide on a referendum question or questions, Wright said.
The Board of Education was scheduled to meet after the survey results meeting and would talk about the survey results briefly but would decide at the next board meeting in November how to proceed, he said.
There has been no discussion yet on whether there should be one or two questions, Wright said.